PRCC offers new route to a degree

Published 7:00 am Saturday, July 19, 2014

Pearl River Community College is once again “plowing new ground”!  Essentially to enroll in credit bearing classes, a student must have attained a high school diploma, or earned a general equivalency diploma (GED).  Lacking either one these diplomas limited the student to enrolling in the Adult Basic Education (ABE) program, which is a GED preparatory program.  An ABE student studies and prepares for proficiency in the areas of science, mathematics, social studies and writing.

In the past, a proficient score on the test was necessary before a student could enroll in classes that would count towards a college degree.  This can take several months for some students to achieve.  Researchers have found that “father time” can be a major enemy to students seeking a college certificate or degree.  The longer it takes for a student to earn a degree, the more likely it is that the student will actually quit and not earn a college credential.

One solution that PRCC is experimenting with is developing the use of a model called Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training (I-BEST).  The I-BEST model is designed to place students without a high school diploma directly into credit classes.  However the students are not alone in this endeavor as an Adult Basic Education instructor is placed in the class concurrently with the traditional content teacher.  The ABE instructor works with students in keeping pace with the other students.

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During this summer term at PRCC, students without a high school diploma seeking a GED were enrolled in classes such as Micro Computer Applications and Professional Development.  Each class is credit bearing and count towards a degree in Office Systems Technology.  These students are also enrolled in ABE classes to prepare the student for the GED examination.  However, these students will be a few steps closer to earning a college degree before completion of the ABE program.

There are some issues with the continuation of a program like this.  First of all, students cannot receive federal financial aid without a high school diploma.  Therefore, students must seek out other ways to pay for their tuition.

In the current pilot program at PRCC, a United State Department of Labor Grant is paying for much of the instructional costs.  However, when the grant ends in approximately a year from now, a funding mechanism will be necessary for sustaining this effort.

In recent history, the United States Department of Education’s Pell Grant Program, which is the primary type of federal financial aid for colleges in the United States, contained an “Ability to Benefit” clause.  This allowed students without a high school diploma to take a test to determine if the student could enter college.  A successful test score would then allow the student to receive a Pell Grant to help with tuition and other costs.  At PRCC approximately 60% of the student body receives a Pell Grant.  Unfortunately the Ability to Benefit clause was removed in 2012 leaving students without a high school diploma ineligible for funding.

The Association of Community College Trustees, the American Association of Community Colleges and others are lobbying federal policy makers and government officials to reinstate the Ability to Benefit program.  This would offer some recourse for those seeking a college degree and a GED concurrently.

Cutting the time to earning a degree will make a difference in whether most students persist on to graduation.

Competing for a job in the 21st century economy, those with a college degree have a distinct advantage over those that do not!


By Scott Alsobrooks

Scott is Pearl River Community College’s Vice President for Economic and Community Development